How to Unlock the Stress Cycle

How to Unlock the Stress Cycle | Expressions Counselling

Stress is a normal part of life. I get stressed, you get stressed, we all get stressed! Throughout life, stress is brought on by many different demands, such as work, relationships, deadlines, and finances. Stress can be beneficial in many ways. When stress becomes chronic and never goes away, it can affect your physical and mental wellbeing. Ultimately, stress can lead to burnout.

Ultimately, stress can lead to burnout.

As stressors build and build throughout life, you can get caught in a constant state of stress, never escaping the cycle. What is a stress cycle? The stress cycle is when our bodies learn that after facing danger and stress, it can move into a state of safety. This is the completion of the full cycle. This tells your body to stop the stress response and the body can begin to calm down and move forward. 

So what happens if you do get stuck in the stress cycle? You burnout. Burnout is an emotional, physical and mental state of exhaustion as a result of chronic stress. You may feel overwhelmed, emotionally exhausted, depleted, or feel that nothing you do makes a difference anymore. 

If you are feeling any symptoms of burnout, you need to unlock the stress cycle by completing it.  Removing the stressor does not complete the stress cycle! 

Removing the stressor does not complete the stress cycle. 

So, how do you complete the stress cycle? Since stressors are apparent every day, it is important to try to do at least one of these every day too. 

    1. Move – Any form of movement will release the stress hormones in your body. Try dancing, walking, running, rock climbing, swimming, jumping, or whatever way you like to move. Moving outside with fresh air or in nature is a bonus!
    2. Breathing – Breathing down-regulates your nervous system and is a gentle way to complete the stress cycle. Try breathing (full and slow breath in and a full and slow breath out) for 2 minutes and feel the difference. 
    3. Talk to Someone – Talking to someone or getting together with your support system tells your body that you are safe and that there is no need to be on high alert and stressed. 
    4. Laughter – The kind of laughter that is honest, authentic, belly shaking, uncontrolled and even embarrassing. Through evolution, laughter has evolved to help maintain social bonds and to help regulate emotions. 
    5. Hugging – Hugging someone for 20 seconds can actually reduce stress hormones, lower blood pressures, and release hormones associated with comfort and connection; oxytocin. It is about a warm hug in a safe and trusting environment.
    6. Crying – A big full out cry, even just five minutes, can unlock the stress cycle. Let the emotions be fully experienced, ending with a feeling of relief. 
    7. Creative Expression – It is healthy to take how you feel inside and put it outside of yourself, whether in the form of visual arts, dance, music, or drawing.


When you are feeling stressed, try doing something that unlocks the stress cycle. What are the stressors in your life that are taking a toll on you? Are you able to make any changes? Are you able to do any of the above to help relieve stress? If you are feeling overwhelmed, stressed, or burned out, reach out to a counsellor for help. 

This ‘Stress Cycle’ is extracted from the book Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle by Amelia Nagoski and Emily Nagoski. 

Jordana Glotman

Jordana Glotman is a Registered Clinical Counsellor at Expressions Counselling. She is passionate about working with individuals to overcome anxiety, depression, trauma, stress, life transitions, and relationship issues. She sees clients in-person at our Burnaby and North Vancouver locations as well as online.

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